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On the contraception mandate

I should point out before I begin that in this post, I am speaking for myself only. The All Our Lives board is not unanimous in the details of our opinions on requiring religious employers to provide insurance that covers contraception, though we are united in our belief that widespread access to contraception is vital.

I have a problem with the whole way this whole issue has been framed as “making churches pay for something they find morally objectionable.” Health insurance that someone earns as part of their employment compensation package is theirs, not the employer’s. If an institution’s religious freedom does not extend to allowing them to tell the employee that she can’t use her salary to pay for contraception, why should it extend to telling the employee that she can’t use her insurance benefit to pay for contraception? Yes, the money to pay the premium is coming from the employer, but so is the money to pay her salary. As far as I can tell, the difference is that religious institutions have been able to restrict the way that employees use their insurance benefits in a way that they have not been able to restrict the way that employees use their salaries, but the ability to do something does not make it a right. If there were some kind of special money that could be used to buy anything except contraception, would it be a violation of religious institutions’ First Amendment rights to require all employers to pay in standard money?

I’m an atheist. I rely on the separation of church and state to protect my freedom. Because of that, I’m leery of anything that even remotely smacks of government interference in religion or religious interference in government. That’s why I can appreciate the impulse behind the Adminstration’s accomodation allowing religious institutions to offer restricted insurance to their employees while still requiring the insurers to provide contraception coverage to those employees. I won’t claim to respect the belief that contraception is intrinsically evil. I think it causes great harm and is based on a number of false premises. But I do respect people’s right, as much as is possible in a pluralistic society, not to cooperate with something they think is evil. What happens, though, if Jehovah’s Witness employers decide that their employee’s insurance plans shouldn’t cover blood transfusions? What if Scientologist employers decide that their employees shouldn’t be covered for psychiatric treatment? At what point do we decide that a person’s right to practice their religion is interfering with another person’s right to live their life without having to submit to the rules of that religion? The degree of the employers’ “cooperation with evil” in these cases is remote — paying a benefit which the employee decides to use for a purpose condemned by the employer’s religion — while the impact on the employee who is restricted in their use of their own benefit is direct. The same is true of insurance coverage of contraception.

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